I don’t know if you heard, but there is a pipeline problem. This website has been around since 2009 and I’ve been hanging around here on the periphery of the accounting profession like a stalker in the bushes since I started CPA reviewing in 2007, so suffice it to say we’ve seen some shit over the years. And I have to say, I’ve never seen the profession freak out about anything as panicky as the pipeline issue.
And why wouldn’t they? The Big 4 business model requires a constant flow of fresh hot bodies to replenish the slots left open by previous hot bodies fleeing from there to greener pastures. I mean, it’s a joke at this point, getting your “two and done” just for a foot in the door and a resume piece that will earn you a place at a company you really want to work for. Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s been like that since the dawn of time, or at least since the days when George Touche still wore (cloth) diapers.
It’s all about a healthy supply of people to brew, and they’re now wondering why they seem to be churning more than usual and shedding light on fresh new bodies to replace those leaving. It’s almost as if, I don’t know, technology has allowed us to share information like never before, making brilliant brochures about exciting opportunities in public accounting and Sun-esque Black Hole useless smiling recruiters in the face of the thousands upon thousands of first-hand accounts on Reddit, blogs and obscure forums detailing the bullshit the public accountancy hurls at its beleaguered staff.
In 2019, we discovered that the number of CPA exam takers was the lowest in over a decade. The AICPA publishes his Trends in supply of accounting graduates and demand for public accounting recruits report every two years, which means we have to have a new one any day now, so it will be interesting to see how the numbers develop.
While leaders of the profession stand in their summer homes scratching their bald heads wondering why no one wants to be a CPA anymore, one obvious solution stares them in the face: making it easier to pass the CPA exam. Seriously. It’s so simple.
During my CPA exam days, I can’t tell you how many times I received panicked phone calls from candidates who, despite their best efforts, ran out of time for their exam course (remember that was back when “unlimited” access hadn’t yet been invented) because life got into it. And by “life”, I mean “work”. A lot of students hadn’t even opened a single book or watched a single lecture in a year. Why? Well, baby boomers might say because they’re lazy shit, but it’s pretty obvious to anyone born after 1964 that the whole system is setting them up for failure.
For any outside observers who might be reading this, let me explain how it happens. You’re an accounting student, and after going through recruitment, you (hopefully) get at least one offer from a Big 4 firm (they’re pretty much all the same, but we won’t go into details) . You then present your offer to a CPA review course that offers a discount to employees of your future company, get all your materials, and then you start working. Maybe if you’re lucky you have a few months between the offer and the start date you’re studying, but more likely you’re spending that time frantically reading Reddit posts about how much c sucks to work at [your firm] and trying to figure out how you’re going to fit all the booze you’ll need to get through your busy first season into your already tight budget. Then you’re thrown headlong into work while your review course materials gather dust in a dark corner of the apartment where you rarely are until a year has passed and you realize that you have not studied for a single section.
Perhaps – and bear with me here, I’ve been accused of tossing around crazy ideas before – more early-career accountants would be interested in taking the CPA exam if they had the TIME to study. And no, I’m not talking about the few months between the offer and the start date. I’m also not talking about the slight underutilization you might get in a company that can afford to keep you halfway out once in a while so you can spend your time studying. I mean give people real time to study and pass the exam. Also give them some money while you’re at it. But the main problem here is time, or rather its lack.
The AICPA recommends setting aside 300 to 400 hours to study the four parts of the CPA exam. Including the exams themselves, that’s 416 hours an early-career accountant has to set aside on top of work, and that’s assuming they pass the first time, which very few people do. Even preschoolers know there’s a limited amount of time available in a day, so where exactly are they supposed to fit that in? Obviously, work won’t let you spend time away from almighty customer service, which leaves only two other sections to steal time from: sleep and play. Who needs sleep anyway, right?
It’s time to end the bizarre hazing ritual of throwing first years straight through the meat grinder to see who has the guts to hack it into public accounting. I mean WTF, it’s accounting, not The challenge. While companies were busy millennials and their pesky expectations to be treated like human beingsthey missed the most obvious way to encourage more people to take the CPA exam: time.
Or whatever, they can keep doing what they’ve been doing and then complain about no one showing up for the CPA exam and how hard it is to find talent. It seems to work very well for them.
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